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How to Host a White Elephant Party

A white elephant gift exchange is an entertaining twist on holiday gift giving. A good white elephant gift is often unconventional and surprising, and the game usually creates many hilarious memories, stories, and amusing photos. It’s a great way to bring a group or team together for some light hearted holiday fun.

Hosting a white elephant exchange isn’t overly complicated but you’ll want to make sure you plan for a few things so the game will run smoothly and be enjoyable for everyone involved. Here’s a simple checklist to get you started:

1. Theme or Open Season on Gift Selection?
Some white elephant parties have a theme for the gifts and typically the party decor. You might instruct your guests to bring a gift that is edible, or inspired by the 1970’s. Your theme could relate to the group’s interests or activities. For more ideas on party themes check out these white elephant variations.

Some groups will prefer not to have a gift theme. You can allow people to bring any type of gift they want, and you’ll certainly be surprised by the results.

Consider who your audience is when deciding whether to have a theme or not. You don’t want to make it too difficult for them to find gifts.

2. Gift Expectations and Budget
Consider what types of gifts you want people to bring, and what would be the most enjoyable for the group. Should the gifts be funny, useful, or would you like to leave that choice up to the individual. You may have a great time with handmade gifts in some circles but others may cringe at being asked to make something themselves. It can be a good idea to instruct people a little on what to bring, so no one ends up feeling cheap or misinformed.

Many hosts will impose a gift value limit or range. $30 or less is a common choice. Having a gift budget can make the game feel more fair and may help people choose what to bring. Most people won’t want to show up with something that pales in comparison to everyone else’s gift or makes them feel like they’re showing off by bring something over the top. Again, this depends entirely on the group.

3. Draft Your Rules
Finalize and write down the rules and guidelines for your game. Decide how to want to handle gift stealing. Do you want to limit the number of steals per round, per gift, or per player? Can a player steal from someone else if their gift was stolen or do they open a new gift? Does the first player get the option to swap gifts at the end of the game?

Think about adding limits to stealing for groups of 8 or more. In a larger group the game can take a couple hours to complete and adding restrictions of the amount of stealing per turn can help speed things up and sustain the group’s enthusiasm.

For more details on on rules, gift stealing and game variations check out our white elephant rules.

4. Invitations
Set your date, time and location and invite your guests. Explain the game to them in case are foggy on how a white elephant exchange works. It can be helpful to hand out printed rules and party details. Explain that gift stealing is an encouraged part of the game for any who have never participated before.

If you have a gift theme or budget be sure everyone is clear on what’s expected of them. You may want to offer a little guidance on choosing a gift if you want people to bring certain types of gifts like funny, useful, or homemade.

Instruct people on how to wrap their gifts and make sure they know to keep what they bring a secret.

5. Plan for Food
Every party needs at least something to snack on. Providing interesting or themed food and refreshments can add to the fun. You could make white elephant shaped cookies or cake. If you’re party’s theme is vacations you could serve something unique from different cultures around the world.

6. Plan for Music
Background music will help lighten the mood and fill any awkward pauses as people react to underwhelming gifts. Your choice of music can also relate to your party’s theme.

7. Extra Entertainment and Activities
Warm up your crowd with other party games like team Trivia or Pictionary. Offer a door prize or consider holding a raffle with a gift giveaway at the end of the game. You could have a prize for the most interesting gift. If you end up with something really terrible you can snap a photo of it and submit it to our Worst White Elephant Gift contest.

8. Consider Charity
White elephant parties are lots of fun but on a serious note there are many people out there that could use a little help. As long as you’re getting a group or people together you might as well use the event to help a local charity. You could do a canned food drive and have all your guests bring a non perishable food item to donate along with their gift.

9. People are Absent-minded
You might want to get an extra gift in case someone forgets theirs. Having an extra gift bag or two will be useful if someone didn’t wrap their gift.

10. Set the Stage
You’ll need a table or another staging area large enough to hold all the gifts. Make sure there’s enough room around the gifts for everyone to gather and see what’s being opened. Provide enough chairs for everyone to get comfortable.

As guests arrive collect all the gifts and instruct everyone to keep their gift a secret. When everyone is ready to play, take a moment to review all the rules with the group and see if anyone has questions. Determine the order in which players will take their turns. Drawing numbers is the most common way to randomly assign who goes first. Some hosts prefer to use other methods like ordering by seniority or the order in which guests arrived at the party. Your job from here on out is just to facilitate the game, keep the spirits high, remind people of their options like “You can open a new gift or steal Barbara’s”, and remind people of the rules pertaining to stealing.

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